In the Wedgewood neighborhood of north Seattle sits this massive rock measuring 80 feet in circumference and 19 feet in height. Geologists call it a glacial erratic, meaning that its composition does not match its present surroundings. It was deposited more than 14,000 years ago by the Vashon Glacier. As the ice sheet moved inexorably from the north into the Puget Sound area, rocks, sediments and boulders such as this one were carried along by the glacier, and then were left behind when the ice retreated. Originally known as the Lone Rock when it was part of a large farmstead, this large mass is now called simply the Big Rock. It became part of a subdivision platted in the 1940s, where it remains surrounded by houses, trees and brush at the corner of 28th Avenue NE and NE 72nd Street.
This is a weird drawing in the sense that we can’t immediately recognize the Big Rock for what it is. What is that large mass of darkness? We have this yearning to know and identify what it is that we see, which is more easily satisfied when we draw buildings, people, trees and other recognizable things.
I’m sure not everyone would share my love for geometry but an appreciation of the subject has served me well in my years as an architect. Understanding geometry, especially spatial relationships in three dimensions, makes it easier to draw these correspondences in real life.
Take this interior view of St. James Cathedral. Because of the ornamentation, textures and color, it is easy to get confused when confronted by the richness of the scene. But underlying all of the lavish decorative features is a clear geometric scheme.
Imagine looking from above at the square crossing where the nave of the church intersects the transepts. From each side of the square crossing rises semicircular arches. From the apex of each arch, we can extend lines until they intersect at the center of the dome’s oculus. The diagonal groin lines that mark the intersection of the two vaults rise from each corner to intersect at the same center.
If we understand these geometric relationships and, just as important, we can see them as we sit in one of the pews looking upward at the dome, we can draw the square crossing and estimate the placement of the oculus without guessing. We can place it at the peak of the dome, at the intersection of the crossing groin ribs, directly above the center of the crossing.
A question that is often asked is: How do I start a drawing? Where do I start? The very first step, before even touching pen to paper, is selecting the subject matter and mentally composing the image—deciding what will be included and what excluded from the scene before us. Will we zoom in on a part of a building, capture one of its interior spaces, or focus on one of its details? Do we see the building merely as an object? Will we try to place a building in its context? Or will we try to capture the life of a street or square with the architecture serving as a container or backdrop?
• Interior space
• Building as object
• Buildings in context
• The life of an urban space
I did this sketch to help publicize a one-day workshop Gail Wong and I will be offering in Mt. Vernon on Saturday, April 20th. Mt. Vernon is an enchanting small town in Skagit County north of Seattle and the Mt. Vernon Downtown Association is hosting the event.
Full disclosure: Due to constraints of time and weather I drew this scene from a digital photograph that was sent to me. I soon realized that drawing from a photo can actually be more difficult than drawing on location. In a 3D environment, we are able to perceive much more than in a 2D photograph. We can shift our gaze, if necessary, to uncover certain details or to see more clearly things that might be hidden or obscured. And we are free to interpret the 3-dimensional information before us. But in a photograph, everything is frozen, including ambiguities that have to be resolved.
Another note: The Namiki Falcon fountain pen is known for its flexible nib. While it is a joy to draw with, I rarely carry the pen for fear of losing it. But since I was in my home office, I took the opportunity to use it for this sketch. The Namiki Falcon is not inexpensive but still it is a reasonably priced introduction to fine quality fountain pens. Highly recommended.
Even though it’s a typically chilly and rainy winter in Seattle, what better time to study the branch structure of trees. For these stark, black-and-white images, I used a Tombow brush pen.
While I could have relied on my memory or imagination to draw these, I find that the raw material provided by real-life patterns have a specificity that is more compelling than the stereotypical views that we store in our memory bank, and they are much easier to compose and interpret.
The converging lines and foreshortened shapes of a perspective drawing give it a dynamic quality. Yet, it remains a static view—a moment in time—as seen from a single point in space. To better convey movement through space, we can use a series of changing perspective views, as English architect and urban designer Gordon Cullen did when he coined the phrase Serial Vision to describe what one might see and experience as one walks through a sequence of spaces.
This is what I intended to depict when the Seattle Urban Sketchers met yesterday at Suzzallo Library on the UW campus. These drawings chronicle how one approaches the library from across Red Square, enters one of its portals, moves through the lobby and up the main staircase, and arrives in the main reading room.
Nine drawings done in two hours and twenty-five minutes.
A caricature is a pictorial or literary description of a person or thing that exaggerates certain distinctive characteristics to create an easily identifiable likeness. The result can be insulting or complimentary; I certainly hope these caricatures of me are the latter! These were done and graciously given to me by various individuals during presentations and workshops that I have given.
While these are definitely not intended to be caricatures, they still represent my attempt to capture the likeness of individuals, which is always an enjoyable and constant challenge. I used my iPad to draw these prospective jurors in the King County courthouse. It helped that these people were sedentary, lost in their own thoughts while waiting to be called for jury duty.
To draw people who are moving is much more difficult, as in this view of a rainy morning in Shibuya, Tokyo. These commuters and their umbrellas provide a sense of scale to the composition and lead the eye across the overpass while the automobile traffic flows below.
This study of the uniquely shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree, considered to be a living fossil, requires careful observation of shapes, details, and most importantly, the relationships between the two. In Lingua Franca, a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Geoffrey Pullum ends his essay with a quote from Otto Jespersen, a Danish linguist who specialized in the grammar of the English language:
“To anyone who finds that linguistic study is a worthless finicking with trifles, I would reply that life consists of little things; the important matter is to see them largely.”
The line is the essence of drawing. It is a humble element, made simply by the tip of a pen or pencil as we move it across a receptive surface. Once drawn, a line chronicles the movement by which it was created. It can describe contour and shape, even texture.
More importantly, the line is able to convey to the mind’s eye three-dimensional forms in space, often not by its presence but rather by its absence—where we decide to stop a contour…and pick it up again.
These sketches of sculptures in and around Rome and Naples are prime examples of this amazing power of drawn lines to suggest what in reality is not present on the page.
We happened on this graphic of South America during our recent visit to Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in Argentina. It figuratively turned our heads upside down. We had been so accustomed to maps of the world having north oriented up and south down. This graphic shows that there are other ways of seeing our world.
This idea of (dis)orientation manifested itself in another way on our first day in Córdoba, as we walked around the historic center with map in hand. I am usually pretty good at reading maps and orienting myself in new environments but something was amiss. It took a while but I finally realized this was because I had assumed that the sun was in the southern sky. But here in Córdoba, the sun was actually illuminating the northern sides of buildings and so what I had thought was south was actually north on the street map. And even knowing this, it remained difficult to overcome a lifetime of assumptions.